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Making a smartphone starts with 200 kilograms of rock

© Karolina Grabowska – Pexels

The weight of a smartphone is a technical detail often provided by manufacturers, but it generally only takes into account the mass of the device at the end of its manufacturing process, not the whole materials necessary for its design.

Because if we decide to calculate this data, we far exceed the 171 grams of the iPhone 15. The SystExt association (Extractive Systems and Environments) estimates that our devices are made up of 65 to 80 different components.

But these materials are not all used in the same way. Unsurprisingly, the most common element in a smartphone is plastic. On an “average” device, it represents 17% of the total composition. Then, we find the materials which were used to construct the screen (in particular the glass plate). Together they represent 32% of the smartphone.

Making a smartphone starts with 200 kilograms of rock

© Freepik

Finally, the remaining 45% are occupied by various metals. Usually 53 in number (12 of which are important). Iron is by far the most represented metal in a smartphone, weighing nearly 16 grams. Far behind, we also find much more noble (and expensive) metals such as gold (0.017 g) and palladium (0.0019 g).

Our smartphones are also made of magnesium (7 grams) or aluminum (7 grams). In these same proportions, we find two fairly rare and expensive metals, copper and cobalt, which both weigh nearly 6 grams in our smartphone.

The extraction of metals, a challenge for the planet

But the extraction of so many different metals is anything but a simple matter. On this subject, ADEME estimates that a smartphone actually weighs 200 kilograms. In fact, this quantity of rock must be extracted to obtain enough precious metals to recover a single smartphone.

According to the founder of the Green IT collective, Frédéric Bordage, we can easily imagine the cost of an electronic device based on its weight. Between the final weight of the device and the quantity of rocks needed for its manufacture, he established a proportionality ratio of 500. In other words, a one-kilogram computer will need 500 kg of raw rock to be manufactured.

The question of recycling smartphones

Making a smartphone starts with 200 kilograms of rock

Daisy, l’ huge Apple robot designed to recycle iPhones by the shovel © Apple

Faced with this ever-increasing need for raw materials (the number of components in our smartphones has increased from 30 to 70 in 10 years), a solution presents itself as the most ethical: recycling our old devices. But here again, the reality could be less beautiful than expected.

Indeed, and as the SystExt report explains very well, the organizations in charge of recycling electronic devices are subject to current standards regarding WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). As such, they must keep a certain part of the materials present in the smartphone to rebuild another one.

A gloomy reality

< p>But in reality, this portion of materials is not chosen at random. As the SystExt association explains, recycling companies always focus on the same elements, gold, cobalt and copper. These three metals are in fact the most profitable to recycle, because they are very expensive to purchase. As for the rest of the device, everything can go in the trash.

According to a United Nations report, the share of WEEE recycled today would be less than 50%. The design of a smartphone made from 100% recycled materials is nothing more than a commercial pipe dream. To limit as much as possible the extraction of materials necessary to manufacture a smartphone, it is better to rely on second-hand devices and recondition them.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116